Health

I fell for the 10k-steps-a-day gimmick – I’ve walked in my PJs in the rain I was so obsessed


PACING around my poky flat at close to midnight, I began to question that fitness commitment.

But I’d made a promise to do at least 10,000 steps a day this year — and I wasn’t about to give up.

Sun writer Alice Fuller promised herself to walk at least 10,000 steps a day this year

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Sun writer Alice Fuller promised herself to walk at least 10,000 steps a day this yearCredit: Alice Fuller
Today she reveals she became so obsessive with hitting her target that she felt even worse and became sleep-deprived

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Today she reveals she became so obsessive with hitting her target that she felt even worse and became sleep-deprivedCredit: Alice Fuller

Desperately refreshing my iPhone, I tipped over the threshold with minutes to spare.

Not every day of the past six months has been such a close call, but it’s been touch and go at times.

The number 10,000 is floated around as the be-all and end-all of optimal physical health.

It’s what you will often see preached online — and it’s what your smartwatch wants you to aim for by default.

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But in reality, the “magic” number might actually be ­significantly less.

Dr John Schuna, of Oregon State University, who has studied the topic in detail, said: “Despite a widespread desire within the public health community to formalise ‘steps per day’ guidelines, there has been an insufficient body of ­evidence from which we could derive such recommendations.”

That said, last week, researchers at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland and Johns ­Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US announced in fact, fewer than 4,000 steps a day was enough to ward off premature death, and fewer than 3,000 would keep your heart and blood vessels in decent shape.

What’s more, research by ­Harvard Medical School found 4,400 may be more than enough to live a long, healthy life.

It turns out the “10,000” idea stems from a 1960s Tokyo ­Olympics campaign to flog a new pedometer.

Hugely popular at the time, it appears to have stuck.

But according to Dr Schuna, it is actually better to ditch the idea of daily strides altogether and instead focus on movement more generally.

He says: “It’s not to say that 10,000 steps a day is not a good goal, as most people who achieve this will meet the ­current recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

“But fitness trackers that ­monitor step counts don’t tell us how intense that exercise was.

“For instance, two people might both average an accumulated 5,000 steps a day — one spread evenly over a 16-hour period, the other condensed into a brisk 2.5-hour walk.

“Despite the totals being equivalent, the second individual will yield far greater health ­benefits because they are engaging in some moderate or higher-intensity activity.”

The benefits of opting for the latter approach?

Not only will you lower your chances of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, you’ll also have a reduced risk of cardiovascular problems and premature death, Dr Schuna adds.

The NHS recommends adults aged 19 to 64 aim to do some form of physical activity every day, totalling 150 minutes of moderate intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) per week. But like many, I fell for the 10,000-steps-a-day gimmick.

I’ve carried my phone everywhere, including the bathroom, just to catch every possible step.

I’ve become so obsessive that I check my progress repeatedly throughout the day, and always squeeze my final steps in before I hit the hay — however late.

The habit has seen me glumly strolling through my neighbourhood wearing my pyjamas in the pouring rain. But it turns out I might have been doing so for little extra benefit.

I had hoped to be toned, clear-skinned, full of beans during the day and sleeping like a baby at night, but I’ve noticed very little difference overall.

If anything, I’m more tired than I was before and I sometimes get so stressed about not meeting my target that I feel even worse than I used to after a day perched on the sofa.

I’ve made myself so sleep- deprived. I’ve struggled to keep my eyes open at work. Surely that’s not healthy?

London GP Dr Zoe ­Watson, says: “The figure is rather arbitrary in all ­honesty, and not based on any scientific evidence.

“It has been latched on to because it’s memorable and easy to use as a benchmark — much like our five-a-day fruit and veg consumption and eight hours of sleep at night.

“While it might give us a sense of control and help us to stick to a routine, it can pile on the pressure and make us feel inadequate if we don’t meet it.

“That is just totally counterproductive.

“Some common sense is needed — any body movement is a good thing.

“If you’re someone who hasn’t exercised properly in years and feels 10,000 steps a day is too much, just do what you can.

“And if you’re someone who loves swimming because it’s low-impact, go for a dip.

“Every human has different genetics, social circumstances, and lived lives, so predicting how many steps will reduce their risk of heart disease or stroke is virtually impossible.

“Forget the number. Just do what brings you joy and raises your heart rate a bit.”

Last year, I averaged 10,245 steps a day and this year I’m up to 14,069, going by my iPhone (or 15,565 according to my new FitBit).

So now that I know my behaviour is a little pointless and small bursts of glee-filled exertion can go a lot further, will I keep things up?

For now, yes. But it’s reassuring to know that if I suddenly decide I’m not feeling the challenge any longer, backing out won’t automatically mean I’m destined for an early grave.

Alice will keep up her challenge but feels reassured knowing that backing out may not impact her health so drastically

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Alice will keep up her challenge but feels reassured knowing that backing out may not impact her health so drasticallyCredit: Alice Fuller

HOW TO GET MOVING

IF you are nowhere near 2,000 steps a day, let alone 10,000, or the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, it is time to get moving.

Moderate activity raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster and feel warmer – while vigorous movement takes it further, so you really get a sweat on.

Moderate intensity activities include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Doubles tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Hiking
  • Rollerblading

Vigorous activities include:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Riding a bike fast or on hills
  • Walking up the stairs
  • Sports such as football, rugby, netball and hockey
  • Skipping
  • Aerobics
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
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Chores such as changing bed sheets, vacuuming, scrubbing floors and washing the car, and even standing up and walking around the house when you’re on the phone, rather than sinking into the sofa, will all add to your exercise tally too.

So if you are not a Lycra bunny, there are still ways to start fitting more movement – and more steps – into your daily routine.

CAN YOU TRUST YOUR PEDOMETER?

THERE are dozens of fitness trackers on the market, promising to do everything from count your steps to monitor your heart rate.

Most phones also feature built-in pedometers, but just how accurate are they?

My experience suggests my iPhone misses hundreds of steps a day, averaging about 1,500 daily over a month.

One study, in the Journal of Sports Sciences, found iPhones underestimated steps by about 1,340 during a typical day. So if your health app says you’ve hit 10,000, you’ve probably done about 15 per cent more than that.

This could be down to people not carrying their phone every second of the day, whereas a watch is on their wrist almost all of the time.

But another study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed devices worn on the hip and ankle clearly outperformed those designed for the wrist.



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